Santorum Looks to Rebound in Louisiana
So is Mitt Romney’s win in Illinois the boost he’s been looking for to get him over the hump in his quest for the Republican Party presidential nomination? It’s a little early to tell, but the fact that he soundly beat main rival Rick Santorum does take him a big step closer to nailing down the nomination even if there are 20 or so primary contests yet to come.
Romney defeated Santorum in some crucial voting groups on Tuesday, especially among more moderate Republicans who live in the suburbs and exurbs near the larger towns and cities. These are the groups the Republican nominee will have to pull from if they have any hope of defeating President Obama in November.
Romney also increased his standing among those whose first priority is defeating President Obama. It may be dawning on more and more Republicans that their best shot of defeating Mr. Obama, maybe their only one, is to put up someone who can really compete with the president for the votes of independents and swing voters.
Adding to his Illinois bounty, Romney finally got the long-sought after endorsement of former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The Romney campaign hopes that Bush’s call to the party to rally around Romney as the presumptive nominee will start a kind of unstoppable avalanche of party endorsements that will shift the balance of power so much that Romney will begin cruising toward the magic number of 1,144 delegates to secure the party’s nomination.
Some of the Republican luminaries had wanted Jeb Bush to run this year, arguing that his charisma and ability to appeal to both conservatives and moderates would make him a cinch for the nomination. But I’ve often wondered how Bush would fare in the age of Tea Party activists and other conservatives focused solely on social issues. Bush was a governor and like Romney he had to make compromises along the way during his two terms in office. He has his baggage as well.
Plus, don’t forget that all along Romney has been winning endorsements from senators, members of Congress and even some governors and they haven’t exactly sealed the deal for him or put off his challengers, especially Santorum and Newt Gingrich. But Bush coming aboard is a sign that one of the more shrewd and cautious Republican heavyweights has finally decided it’s safe to cast his lot with Romney in the nomination battle.
Santorum Paying a Price for Stumbles
It’s true that Rick Santorum’s trump card in the primary race is that he is the darling of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians. Romney, by the way, does pretty well among Catholics despite some lingering reservations about his Mormon background.
But Santorum’s main problem of late has been Santorum. Spending time campaigning in Puerto Rico in a fruitless quest for delegates? Mistake. Saying there were bigger issues in the campaign that caring about the unemployment rate? Oops. Combine those clumsy missteps with some organizational failures — like failing to qualify to compete for 10 of the 54 delegates in Illinois — and you have the kind of unforced errors that can erode hope in a political campaign.
Part of Santorum’s strength is that he generally says what he means and will answer any question put to him, even if he risks getting away from the campaign themes that helped him rise to become Romney’s main challenger.
This all came about because for most of 2011 Rick Santorum was an afterthought in the Republican race. He struggled to get asked questions in the televised debates and mostly wandered around rural Iowa in a pickup truck trying to round up conservative Christians to spread the word that he was the only legitimate social conservative in the race.
Santorum’s surprise win in Iowa catapulted him to the top of the field of Romney alternatives and he’s used that stature to pull off some wins in the Midwest, the West, and especially the South. Santorum is well-positioned to win in Louisiana on Saturday but beyond that he will need to pick a state where Romney is favored and make a stand so he can somehow change the narrative that Romney is on an unstoppable course to the nomination.
His best remaining opportunity may come April 3rd in Wisconsin where a victory could resurrect party fears about Romney’s viability and give Santorum enough of a momentum jolt to stage a comeback and at least deny Romney the chance to secure the 1,144 delegates before the end of the primary schedule on June 26th. But to do, that Santorum will have to run a more disciplined campaign and avoid some of the unforced errors that have hurt him at crucial moments.